The LWVNC v. Rucho case is a partisan gerrymandering challenge to the North Carolina congressional map. Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of drawing electoral district lines in a way that discriminates against a political party. Arguably, North Carolinians are subject to one of the more challenging partisan gerrymandering plans in the whole country. To be clear, partisan gerrymandering has been happening since before the constitutional convention in the 18th century, and both parties have drawn lines to benefit themselves while in power. As a result, courts have intervened numerous times when the process has gone too far.
What’s the case about?
As background, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina sued Robert Rucho in his official capacity as Chairman of the NC Senate Redistricting Committee for the congressional redistricting plan adopted in February 2016. The LWVNC challenged the NC congressional map as a violation of the 1st and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, rightly asserting that the plan is an impermissible partisan gerrymander.
Why is this case important?
What’s interesting about this case is how outright cavalier the Senate Redistricting Committee was in introducing and moving this map. The bravado in doing so perhaps stems from the gutting of several key provisions within the Voting Rights Act post-Shelby Co. v. Holder (2013), that would have otherwise protected against any redistricting map that leads to disenfranchising minority voters. A decision in this case, and other partisan gerrymandering cases of this vein, would establish criteria for evaluating whether a partisan gerrymander is unconstitutional.
What’s the status of this case?
The case began in 2016 and has endured several legal obstacles but 2018 has been a hotbed of activity that will continue well into the new year:
District Court declared the NC congressional map unconstitutional and blocked the state from using the map in future elections
Defendants filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) asking the court not to force the state to redraw the congressional map until the court decided on Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone, partisan redistricting cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland, respectively. SCOTUS denied the emergency appeal but allowed for a halting of proceedings until an appeal was filed.
Gill and Benisek decisions are released. SCOTUS vacated and sent LWVNC v. Rucho back to the district court for further consideration based upon Gill.
A three-judge panel issued a new opinion ruling for the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and that the NC congressional map is a partisan gerrymander in violation of 1st and 14th Amendment.
Defendants appealed to SCOTUS asserting that both the lower courts have wrongly decided this case and requesting a review by SCOTUS in the 2019 term. A hearing on this case is expected in the coming months.
On January 4, SCOTUS agreed to hear the League's North Carolina case to determine whether the lower district court decisions were rightly decided. In addition to reviewing the League's case, the court will hear a similar case out of North Carolina filed by Common Cause as well as the Benisek case in Maryland. The addition of Benisek is significant because the court will review multiple partisan gerrymanders attempted by both GOP and DEM led legislatures. This dynamic will grant the court a level playing field of cases to use when and if the court establishes a standard to determine when partisan gerrymandering goes too far, regardless of which parties control state legislative bodies.
The court will hear these cases combined in March 2019 and decide them before the end of the term In June 2019.
The League is represented by our legal partners, Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Campaign Legal Center. As mentioned above, this docket is a consolidated matter with LWVNC v. Rucho, Common Cause v. Rucho, and now Benisek v. Lamone. Stay tuned for more updates about this very interesting and important case as there will be a menu of solutions the court will hear during arguments this Spring; and there just might be a new partisan gerrymandering standard to report when these cases are decided.